Hayle: powerhouse of Cornish engineering

In 1779, John Harvey, a blacksmith in the parish of Gwinear, moved to Hayle and established a small foundry there. His son Henry worked to transform this into Cornwall’s major engineering works, by the nineteenth century employing hundreds of men. To the east of Harvey’s foundry was Copperhouse Foundry, originally a copper smelting works begun in 1758 and Harvey’s fierce commercial rival. The two companies waged what at times became open war over access to the harbour at Hayle and the difficult passage out into the open sea. Nonetheless, their activities provided the foundation for the growing town of Hayle to emerge, eventually uniting the two original settlements at Copperhouse and Foundry.

An early illustration of Hayle Foundry and the White Hart hotel before the railway viaduct was built in 1852.

In Hayle, part in Phillack parish and a part in St Erth, around a third of the men worked in one or other of the foundries. Their presence provided more opportunities for stable and better paid employment for some. For example, Israel Kneebone lived at Phillack churchtown across the estuary from Copperhouse and in 1851 was making a precarious living as a coal porter. He was then recorded as a general labourer, probably eking out an existence from any labouring work on a daily or weekly basis before he became a labourer on the West Cornwall Railway by 1871.

His son born in 1849 was also named Israel. On entering the labour market Israel junior at first found work as an ‘iron factory labourer’ before following his father into labouring on the railway, presumably as a platelayer. But during the 1880s Israel must have gained some engineering skills as he was an engine fitter by 1891, by now married to a local girl and living in St Johns Street in Copperhouse. He was still there in 1911 and still an engine fitter.

Elizabeth Joanna Vivian came from a better-off family. Her father had been a clerk at Harvey’s foundry in 1851 but by 1861 owned a grocery store, employing a couple of servants. Elizabeth left the family home in 1871 after marrying Francis Pool, an engineer from the town and possibly a relation of James and Frederick Pool, engineers who set up a foundry at Hayle in 1862. Elizabeth accompanied her husband on business trips halfway across the world. A child was born to them in Nicaragua in 1872 and another back in Hayle a year after. Unfortunately, on another trip in 1881, Elizabeth fell sick and died in Madras/Chennai in southern India.

North Quay at Hayle, viewed from Lelant around 1900. Note the piles of coal on the quay, brought in for the power station in the left of the photo
Artist’s impression of North Quay in 2030 viewed from the south. No more coal, replaced by luxury housing, second homes and holiday lets – with their more disguised carbon costs

2 thoughts on “Hayle: powerhouse of Cornish engineering

  1. Do you think the strangely named Israel Kneebone was Jewish? The name Israel suggests this.

    I was also very interested to learn of Elizabeth’s adventures and her sad end. So many stories you outline in brief are ripe for novelisation, they really are. It seems as though many of your people travelled a whole lot more, and adventured more, and risked more, than many of us today.

    Good comment on the two photos esp re hidden carbon costs.


    1. While there were small Jewish communities in 19th century Falmouth and Penzance I would be surprised if Israel was Jewish. First names from the Old Testament were not that rare in the mid-1800s.

      As for travelling and adventuring you have to keep in mind that the life stories in the blogs are not representative of the whole sample. I keep my eye open for interesting cases so the more humdrum and predictable lives are less likely to feature, especially in the bigger parishes.


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